The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has announced two new awards to technology firms to fully develop web-based tools that inform student decision making in postsecondary education. The projects will focus on generating a measure of the return of investment (ROI) for different educational training programs and careers, so that high school and college students have access to data-driven information to guide their decisions.
The awards were made through a special topic offered by the U.S. Department of Education/IES Small Business Innovation Research (known as ED/IES SBIR) program, which funds the research and development of commercially viable education technology. (For information on the 22 awards made through the IES 2020 standard solicitation, read here.)
Background and Awards
While websites like College Scorecard and CareerOneStop provide information to explore training programs in colleges and occupations of interest, there is no tool that helps students understand the costs and benefits of individual postsecondary programs in an integrated, customizable, and user-friendly manner.
A 2019 Phase I SBIR special topic solicitation requested proposals from small businesses to develop new ROI tools that would improve program completion rates, employment and earnings, and satisfaction with college or career, all while minimizing education-related debt. In 2019, two Phase I awards (see here and here) were made to firms to develop prototype ROI tools. The 2020 Phase II SBIR special topic solicitation requested proposals from the two 2019 Phase I awardees with plans for the full-scale development of the ROI tools, as well as an interface to present information to students and users. Both firms received 2020 Phase II awards through this special topic:
- Illinois-based BrightHive, Inc. is fully developing an open-source toolkit that states and networks can use to calculate metrics that support and inform decision-making by postsecondary students. The Training, Education, and Apprenticeship Program Outcomes Toolkit (TEAPOT) will include several components to support implementation, including data requirements, a field guide with instructional materials and technical tools to help partners to securely and ethically combine wage and education data, a resource hub containing expert guidance and recommendations for deploying the ROI metrics in different contexts and apps, and a reference interface that allows states and networks to present ROI data as part of their career guidance applications.
- Virginia-based Vantage Point Consultants is fully developing the Return on College (ROC) tool to support students, families, and counselors with understanding of the lifetime costs and opportunity tradeoffs associated of different postsecondary degree programs. In one version of ROC, students will be able to search colleges nationwide based on geographic location and occupational goals, with personalized output on projected debt, loan repayment, disposable income, graduation risk, and the ROI focal points of these decisions. In the other version of ROC, prospective students visiting a college website will receive data driven information on potential careers, salaries, price, and debt expected for degrees offered by a school.
After development is complete in early 2022, researchers will analyze whether the tools function as intended and are feasible for students to use. Research will also test if the tools show promise for producing a meaningful and accurate measure of ROI. Both firms will also focus on preparing for the wide-scale distribution of the tools to end users, as well as plans for sustaining the tools over time.
Stay tuned for updates on Twitter (@IESResearch) as IES projects drive innovative forms of technology.
Written by Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov), Program Manager, ED/IES SBIR